Physics communicators compete for IOP award

28 November 2013

This year's Early Career Physics Communicator Award has gone to a postdoc at Trinity College Dublin who helped to create a physics campaign on the city's light railway.

Jessamyn Fairfield (left) receives her award from Fran Scott
Jessamyn Fairfield (left) receives her award from Fran Scott


Jessamyn Fairfield was presented with £250 in cash by television communicator Fran Scott at the final of the awards on 26 November.

Fairfield impressed judges with her enthusiasm and her commitment to finding funders for the eight-week advertising campaign on the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) as well as her ability to explain complex ideas through blogs and other outlets.

She was among four finalists who gave presentations during the event at the IOP's London centre before the winner was announced and each was presented with a certificate on behalf of the IOP Physics Communicators Group, which organised the awards.

Chris Clarke, a freelance science communicator who did an integrated master’s and a science communication master’s at Imperial College London, described his involvement in a wide range of outreach activities, writing and broadcasting.

Dave Farmer, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham, gave a talk about his numerous demonstrations and lectures, and his strategy of being a “stealth physicist” helping to overturn stereotypes of scientists.

Sam Gregson, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge and an affiliated particle physicist at CERN, spoke about his involvement in outreach through comedy, including organising a stand-up night at CERN, and contributing to BBC radio and television programmes.

In her presentation, Fairfield said she tried to explain advanced physics concepts in simple language. With some creative thought about how to communicate ideas, it was possible to convey difficult material even to those with no maths background, she said.

After her award was announced, Fairfield said: “I am very excited and surprised. Science communication can be undervalued by the research community but it’s really important because that’s how you get more scientists and people who are scientifically literate. In my career I want to have a dual focus on research and outreach. This award means that when I go for permanent positions I will be able to demonstrate credibility in science communication.”

As one of the judges, Scott gave feedback to each of the finalists before presenting the prize. In her keynote talk, she described her career in science communication on television, particularly to children, through programmes such as Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom.

She said: “I strongly believe that science itself is not difficult but it’s sometimes presented in a way that makes it overcomplicated. It’s so easy for children to say ‘I am not brainy enough to do science’, and that’s because they’re scared.” Her aim was to remove that sense of intimidation and to build on familiar concepts to engage young audiences.

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